When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out, let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened — an occasion to sample a few items and satisfy curiosities (both yours and ours).
Restaurant: Bamboo Sushi
Location: 2502 East Camelback Road, #119
Open: About two months
Eats: Sushi and Japanese fare
Price: $3 to $28
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
The Biltmore area culinary scene landed a serious upgrade in its directory — the world's first certified sustainable sushi restaurant. When you walk into Bamboo Sushi, the food experience begins even before you start eating. Guests are greeted by a lacquered black background with detailed pink and purple flowers. This welcome gives you the ambiance of landing in the middle of a bustling Tokyo scene. You soon realize this is a different kind of sushi place.
The theme of sustainability is readily noticeable. The menu opens with the following phrases: "We seek to inspire change, change the way people eat, the way restaurants do business, and the way we treat our environment."
Walls in the dining area showcase fishermen who display their sustainably-caught prizes. Inside the menu, an insert lists various facts about Bamboo Sushi's initiatives — the restaurant is fully carbon neutral, 80 percent of the seafood is sourced domestically, and 46.4 acres of seagrass and mangroves are saved in an effort to sequester carbon and enhance marine environments. This inclusion and emphasis of sustainability reflects CEO Kristofor Lofgren's vision.
"Sustainability is the core of who we are and part of our DNA and it's something where we walk the talk and are transparent about what we do," he says.
The sustainability message continues as the server approaches. He greets me with enthusiasm and emphatically says, "We are a cashless establishment and only accept credit cards." This is also intentional. "Our servers are the liaisons to our mission of sustainability and guest experiences," Lofgren says.
There are of course listings of traditional drinks, like wine, beer, and craft cocktails, but sake is a must at a sushi joint. Bamboo Sushi offers a sake flight, with a choice of any three two-ounce pours. This allows the uninitiated to experiment with drinks like bamboo sake crafted especially for the restaurant. This blend contains hints of lily and melon and tiny bits of lychee. If you're craving something stronger, Japanese whiskey is also on the menu with an accessible price point. Whiskeys are $11 at the low end, while the single malt 18-year Yamazaki is $58.
Sustainability is important, but the ultimate verdict should be measured by the taste of the food. A complimentary starter of warm edamame is offered to guests. It's crisp, seemingly very fresh, and the salt granules are spread evenly. The dish sits on top of a bamboo mini-box.
If you want to try another starter, the shishito peppers are a must, charred and coated with miso butter and topped with bacon and bonito flakes. Miso soup with the addition of truffled mushrooms offers complementary flavors — the broth is heightened with the texture of the mushrooms. It seems the goal is to elevate typical Japanese cuisine with special touches like fresh wasabi, grated tableside.
As the meal progresses, the wait staff is attentive and open to inquiries. There will be several food terms you may not recognize on the menu, but that isn't a problem. Questions are answered with the intent to please the customer. As I asked away, I watched plate after plate being delivered around me. Main courses are categorized in different sections like land, sea, nigiri, and sashimi.
Standouts on the sushi menu include the Garden of Eden — spiced albacore, cucumber, and apple, topped with tuna tatami, basil, pickled mustard seeds, and yuzu vinaigrette. The presentation is such that you don't want to disturb the artistry. When you do take that first bite, though, there is little regret. The albacore is Marine Stewardship Council certified, which represents an international organization setting the standard for sustainable fishing with full traceability. There is a robust freshness, while the condiments create an added texture to the fish and rice.
Another highlight is the Big Island, a combination of tempura shishito peppers and avocado, topped with kanpachi, lemon, fried shisho, and yuzu kosher dressing. The crunch of the shisho, a beefsteak plant, is refreshing and a complement to the rice. The sushi is memorable, both for its artistry and surprisingly good taste.
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Additional options for main entrees include a traditional bento box, which contain a green machine roll, nigiri, vegetable tempura served with salad, rice, and miso soup. The price point for a bento box is $16. If you're feeling extra adventurous, there's an omakase option — Japanese for "I'll leave it up to you." Tell the chef your preferences and a meal is tailored for your palate. The point of this option is there is a wide variety of choices at Bamboo Sushi, and the prices allow you to sample several options.
Lofgren says he was excited to open Bamboo Sushi in the Valley. "We like the environment of Phoenix," he says. "It is a cool city that is growing and diverse. We wanted to add something special with sustainability and give people a way to feel good about what they are eating."
Bamboo Sushi is more than an environmentally conscious establishment. Its attention to detail and elevated cuisine makes it memorable not only in its mission, but in its purpose of offering guests something they may find in Japan.
Editor’s note: The public dining space of this business may be closed by the time of publication because of the coronavirus.